Destination: Lake Balaton- Káli basin
In September we decided to take off for a long-weekend to Balaton, Hungary along with our dog. I was very excited about this trip and not just because Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe. Even though it is a much frequented holiday destination, it has a lot more to offer than beaches, buffet food and beer. Not so long ago I heard about a hidden monastery in the woods that once belonged to the mysterious monks of The Order of Saint Paul. Just like any other nation around the world Hungarians also have their own legends and mystery. A big part of it is in connection with the monks of the Order of Saint Paul. Even though their Order belonged to the Catholic Church, they are believed to have been the keepers of the ancient knowledge and magic of the Hungarian tribes. I am fascinated by legends and mystery especially when it comes from my own culture so I couldn’t wait to pay a visit.
We stayed at a friend’s house over the weekend about 37 km away from Salföld, where the ruins of the monastery are. The town we stayed in is called Balatonakali which is situated on the Northern coast of the Lake. Balatonakali is a vacation spot with a decent beach with paddle boats and a water-slide. The lake side is flanked by Sycamore trees and clean bathrooms, changing cabins and tiny wooden food stands. During the season, entering the beach has a cost of about 2000 HUF (9,35 AUD)/day, but off-season the lake side is opened from 6 am until 1 am to the public and is mainly occupied by fishing locals. There are a few things to do in the village of Balatonakali during the summer like going to the open air cinema, or so-called “garden cinema”, a typical Balaton attraction that can be found all around the lake. The village is neat with traditional Balaton-style houses and a tiny main square with two churches and an adorable lavender garden. There are a few restaurants in town that offer traditional Hungarian dishes as well as local specialties. We had a good time walking our dog on the narrow streets then going to the bar near the beach to grab a beer.
Balatonakali Fish Festival
The Town Hall organizes events all year long and we were lucky enough to be there when the fish festival took place. We tried the local Balaton-style fish dishes made from freshly caught fish. The deep fried bream was amazing but they also had mixed fish soup and fish burgers as well which I learned was a novelty this year. There was an honesty box system, a jar was placed at one of the tables among the food and drink stands where anyone could honor the food and drinks. It was an amazing experience for us to spend some with the locals, seeing how they all knew each-other. Kids and dogs were also more than welcome, they set up a small carousel and provided other playful activities for the small ones, while the adults could feast and then dance to live music played by a local band.
Salföld and the Pauline monastery ruins
Next day we were heading off to Salföld, which is situated in the Káli-basin, a very interesting landscape formed by previous volcanic activities which resulted in balzatic tuff formations all over this region. The town itself is architecturally beautiful, the houses are well preserved which makes it absolutely worth to visit. Most houses here were built in region specific style and are in very good condition. Salföld is also famous about it’s Major (Farm) where vistors can see indigenous Hungarian domestic animals such as the famous grey cattle, racka sheep, horses and dogs. The farm has an entry fee of 500 HUF (2,35 AUD) for adults and it is open all year long.
About the monastery
The monastery was founded by the Sal family in the 13th century and was consecrated to Saint Mary-Magdalen. In the 1400’s it was abandoned for a while due to battles in the area. Later that century it was renovated and expanded. The Pauline monks inhabited it until it was destroyed during the Turkish invasion in the mid 16th century. The monastery consisted of the church, a vestry, a chapel a garden with a fountain, the dormitory, a wine cellar, food cellar, a kitchen and a refectory. The excavation of the ruins began in the 1959 and was led by dr. Károly Sági archeologist and reconstructions took place until 2007 supervised by Ilona Schőnerné Pusztai according to her own restoration plans. ( Source: Hungarian Wikipedia article about the monastery)
The forest and the ruins
A few kilometers away from the village on Abraham Mountain (Ábrahám-hegy) lies the monastery deep inside the forest. The monastery was once inhabited by the Pauline monks from The Order of Saint Paul the first Hermit. We went by car from Balatonakali and it took us about 40 minutes to get to the village Salföld. The closest we could get to the site of the ruins was the cemetery where we parked our car. We quickly had our sandwiches for lunch and after asking the whereabouts of the monastery from a group of horseback riders, we started our walk. We had to follow a dirt road in the middle of meadows and crop-fields which slowly led us into the forest. On our way we saw horse-drawn carriages transporting tourists but little did we know that they were coming and going from the site. The tours are pretty frequent from Salföld to the ruins which makes it easy to go there by transportation. The forest was quiet and old, this is how I imagine a fairy-tale forest. I was overwhelmed with an indescribable calmness for the whole time. The forest itself is a nature reserve area with a hiking route. After a half an hour walk we arrived to a small wooden gate, an entry to a beautiful clear with tall trees and a picnic area with wooden benches and tables. Only when we walked further in could we see parts of the brick walls behind the dense canopies. The ruin is sitting on top of a hill and is completely surrounded by ancient beech trees, a natural camouflage of the stone walls. The ruin itself is nicely preserved at the moment, but I am unsure if it is being taken care of by any organization today. There is a description found on the side in both English and Hungarian, about the history of this magical place. We were fortunate enough to arrive when no one was there so we could have this whole experience to ourselves. Walking among what is left of a humongous building that was once busy and thriving, now only is the home of bats and birds that seek hideaways in the cracks and holes within the walls. This place has a very strong and benevolent spirit. Tranquility and beauty would be the two words best describing the experience being there. I don’t know if it was the fact of being in nature or the happy and sacred days of the hermit monks that lived and worked here hundreds of years ago, but one thing is for sure: not too many places have had such a huge impact on me during my travels.
I will definitely return to Salföld and visit the ruins and also make a wine tour in the area and visit the local wineries. I am highly recommending this one day tour with visiting the village and ruins to anyone who enjoys beautiful landscapes and settlements and a touch of history.